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Health and Safety - Tips (Part 3)

[This page - Women Travelers (below), General Safety, Health Issues, Sand Flies, Potpourri of Suggestions]

Travel Advice for Women - Honduras Travel

◊ Women traveling alone may anticipate a bit of attention, both visually and possibly vocally. 
◊ Dress culturally appropriately.  Long skirts just make sense if you want to draw less attention.  Confine beach wear and shorts to the Bay Islands. 
A recent visitor wrote that after observing local women wearing contemporary apparel in La Ceiba and San Pedro Sula, women might well want to consider capris and cotton.  My wife suggests that the smaller the village, the more conservative you dress.  We were in several villages where she says that anything other than a long dress would have been inappropriate.  Use your judgment.

I heartily agree with the cotton clothing recommendation, as mentioned in our 'packing for travel' section.

◊ Ignore catcalls if they occur and move on.  This can be handled just as at home when walking through a construction workers' area.  If you engage or respond to the banter, it merely escalates.
◊ Avoid direct eye contact when talking with males.  This has nothing to do with deference. When women make direct eye contact in Honduras, it is an "invitation" that you may not want to be extending.  Don't do it.

More Ideas

Most would encourage women not travel alone.  If you must travel alone, use taxis and travel during the day.  Use good sense!
◊ Arrive early for the bus so that you can sit - - avoiding the physical jostling, etc., that is inevitable in the aisle.  Buses get very crowded.  Where available, use 1st class buses rather than chicken buses.
◊ On the bus, seek out an elderly Honduran woman as a travel mate.  Age is still respected and you are less apt to be bothered by Casanova, if he rides your route.
◊ If someone tries to swipe your purse, don't resist (because you aren't carrying valuables in it anyways - see general safety ideas below).
◊ If you have issues that need police attention, stop by a church and ask that someone go with you to the police station.  While I make no promises, it can help.

General Safety Ideas

•  Gang violence has escalated, particularly in San Pedro Sula.  The tragic Christmas 2004 bus shooting had the country in a tizzy.  The tourist ministry was cringing after working so hard to profile Honduras in a better light.  While of no consolation to Hondurans, this violence is not directed at tourists.  Rather, it seems that the poorest are at the mercy of the gangs, daily through extortions and neighborhood control.

People have written and asked if this spate of violence would change my mind about visiting Honduras.  It would not.  I decidedly would spend less time in San Pedro Sula but:

1.  Honduras is much, much more than gang violence.  The violence grabs our front page, just as it does at home. 

2.  The violence has not yet been directed towards tourists.

At the same time, I would tell you that if this makes you anxious, don't travel.  There is absolutely no reason to spend money and well-earned vacation time worrying about whether or not a Honduran gang is going to ruin your time.  It is your call.

•  Awareness is the key – In numerous trips to Central America, we have not had one problem with security.  The Department of State offers a cautionary warningRead it.  It will give you pause that is for sure, as will the numerous rifle-toting guards and police whom you will see in the larger cities.  Yikes!

I admit that I take the State Department's warning with a grain of salt.   I recognize the inherent danger in any metropolitan area, regardless of the country.  I have always been curious how our
Security Issues, Honduras.State Department would write up travel alerts (if written objectively) on New York City or Chicago.   What to do then? 

Let's list some key6 ideas to help with safety issues:

Always ask the front desk for the safe and less-than-safe areas for walking. 
  Take no jewelry with you.  A $25 Timex is sufficient.  We leave all other jewelry, even our wedding bands, at home.
  Use taxis after dark.  In metro areas, taxis should be used to move from bus station to bus station.

More suggestions:

Don’t flash cash around.  Use a money belt for extra cash and your passport.  Carry only the day's money in your front pocket with a thick rubber band around it.  The band helps hold the wad in your pocket when you sit down.
◊  Take one credit card, leaving all the cancellation details with a friend at home.  If traveling with someone, they should take a different credit card.
◊  Split the cash and travelers' checks with your traveling partner.  Each carries half.
◊  Write down travelers' check numbers and keep in a place separate from your checks.  Have the phone number available to report lost checks.

And finally:

◊  Be aware of your surroundings.  Essentially, act just like you would in any major metropolitan area. 
◊  Use common sense.  Use good judgment.  I found that the people in Honduras were extremely “protective” of us and were quick to assist with a list of “do’s and don’ts” for us when we merely asked. 


 Health Issues

•  Pharmacies

 Don’t bring along tons of over-the-counter items.  Honduran pharmacies are very well stocked and the prices are comparable to what you pay in North America.  

◊   Put your prescriptions4 in the bottles in which thePrescriptions - Take in Original Bottles, Honduras.y were dispensed in your carry-on, not in your checked baggage. 
◊   In cities, pharmacies take turns remaining open 24 hours a day.  When it is a pharmacy’s turn, a green card will be displayed in the front window. 
◊   Pharmacists in Honduras have 6 years of post-high school education.  They often serve as the first line of “physicianing.”  Have a medical issue?  First talk with a pharmacist.

•  Physicians – If you get in a bind, you can find English-speaking docs in Santa Rosa de Copan, Copan, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa, The Bay Islands, and La Ceiba.  Overall, medical care in Honduras is not up to North American standards.
◊   Consider buying medical emergency air evacuation insurance.  Because I have a back issue, we bought a $50,000 plan for $16 through our auto association – a bargain by any standard.  Lonely Planet offers a listing of firms dealing with trip insurance (to include air evacuation, if desired).
◊   Check to make sure your health insurance plan covers care in Honduras.  Medicare doesn't cover you in Honduras.
◊   Diarrhea.  If you do experience a bout, give it 24 hours.  Use plenty of clear liquids - - hydrate, hydrate, hydrate and eat plain toast or white rice.  If it continues beyond 24 hours, go after it with that prescription anti-biotic we talked about earlier.

•  Sand Flies (no-see-ums) – No discussion of the North Coast, Roatan, Guanaja, or Utila would be complete without a discussion of biting midges.  I have yet to figure out why God created these although some naturalist using mind-altering drugs will surely conjure up a reason.  Sand flies5 live on and off the beach, just waiting for you to come along. 


◊  Cover up.  Cotton socks and pant legs help.  Put a drop of lavender oil on your cuffs. 
   Stay off the beach or out of wooded, moist areas when there is no breeze.
   Some people swear by taking garlic oil pills or B-1 (100 mg daily); Off Deep Woods (or any product containing DEET); Avon Skin So Soft; or a Texas product, Cactus Juice (which is available on Roatan).  Go ahead and lather up.  None worked.
Biting Midge, Roatan, Honduras, (Bay Islands).  I got drilled, period.   My wife, sitting right next to me, walked away without a bite.   I am convinced that some of us are allergic to them; some of us are not.
   New products with R-326 claim to be more effective and avoid the medical concerns of DEET/skin absorption.  If you have the time, order a spray with R-326 ahead of time.

So you got bit up, eh mate?

   What to do when bit?  At night, take two Benadryl.  It helps.  During the day, apply hydrogen peroxide.  Let it dry.  Then, load up with calamine lotion (calamina).  There are also anti-itch creams available in the pharmacies.  If you have a good cream from home, take it with you.   Resist the urge to scratch (he chuckles) as scratching often leads to infection.
  If it is of any consolation, keep in mind that the sand fly (only the female bites humans) has a life cycle of 4-days.  It is long dead after you still are itching.  What a legacy.

A Potpourri of Suggestions
•  Laundry Services (Lavanderia) - Earlier, in the planning recommendations, we suggested light packing with cottons that could be washed out in your hotel sink at night.   In all the cities (Copan Ruinas and Santa Rosa Copan as well), you will find laundries that take your clothing in the morning and have it wash, dried, and folded by 6 p.m.  Hotels in the larger cities will wash your clothes as well.  Avail yourself of these very inexpensive services; hotels charge more than local laundries.

•  Showers – Be careful with two plumbing issues throughout Honduras:
◊  Hot/Cold piping is sometimes reversed.  Check before entering the shower.

  Some showers (often called 'widows makers') are merely electrical heating elements crudely wired to the showerhead.  Watch out where you put your hands during the shower.

•  Toilet paper Don’Bathroom Signs, Roatan, Honduras.t assume that public areas, to include restaurants, will have toilet paper.   Grab a roll out of your hotel room.  Crush the cardboard core and remove it.  Toss the roll in that purse you bought.  Trust me, this can come in very handy.  At the right moment, T.P. is more precious than gold.

  Commodes – Speaking of bathrooms, every restroom (baño or servicio) has a basket right near the commode.  Guess what it is for?  The used paper goes into the basket.  The low water pressure and sewer systems can’t handle waste paper. You will get used to this.  Honest, you will.

•  Standard of Living  - First-time North Americans are often taken back by the poverty in Central America.  Visitors to Honduras need be aware that Honduras has the second lowest per capita income in the Western Hemisphere.  At times, divers land in Roatan, get a step or two off the path and say, "This isn't what I expected.  Insulate me from this ..."  The unfortunate reality of poverty exists throughout Latin America, even if some 5-star all-inclusive resorts and their promotional literature try to "protect" you from it.

Often I am asked, how best to interact if people ask for money.  In Honduras, I experienced very few such situations (as contrasted to my experiences in Guatemala during its civil war).  Honduran people are very proud people and maintain their dignity in the face of a terrible, grinding poverty. 

But if you are asked for money, how best deal with it? 

◊  I do two things.  First, I say, “no gracias.”   I then invite the individual to a comedor (small dining room with inexpensive food).  Sometimes my offer is accepted; sometimes it isn’t.
  Why not just give someone some money and move on?  You will have to decide this for yourself.  Years ago, when traveling in Guatemala, our Guatemala host asked us not to give to those who asked for things.  He said, “You can be seen as a dollar bill, not as a person.  If at the end of this trip, if you want to give money, I can suggest organizations that are making significant, systemic changes that improve our people’s lives.”  His advice has served us well in our numerous trips to Central America.
   Finally, with each of our trips, my wife and I budget a percentage of our total expenditures for an organization that is making a difference.  When we get home, that is the first "bill" that is paid.  Here are five fine organizations working in Honduras that would use your money wisely.  Give without worries -- it will be used very wisely:

    Nuestras Pequeñas Rosas (Our Little Roses) - Located in San Pedro Sula, Nuestras Pequeñas Rosas is home to 70 young previously homeless girls.  It is an outgrowth of the Episcopal Diocese of Honduras.

    Habitat for Humanity (earmarked for Honduras) - In Honduras, Habitat’s goal is to build 1,000 homes a year in the San Pedro Sula area through 2007. 
    Heifer Project International (earmarked for Honduras) – Heifer’s work in Honduras is in the Siguatepeque area.
Adelante, based in La Ceiba.  Adelante is a micro-credit, entrepreneurship organization that lends small amounts of money to individuals (mainly women) so that they may begin their own business.  Superb organization.
La Clinica Esperanza,  a virtual life mission by Peggy Stranges, RN, to provide medical care to the low income of Roatan

     Online information - Further information about a variety of organizations working for the improvement of life in Honduras are as close as the next link.
is an online portal  -- a network of individuals and groups working on innovative, grassroots responses to Honduras' social and economic needs, leveraging the information and the talent, expertise, and time within their network to serve as a catalyst for change.  The site is an excellent 'window' through which prospective volunteers can see the variety of organizations working for the betterment of Honduran life.

         "Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good."

-Vaclav Havel

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